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  • Writer's pictureMed Insider

An Insider of a Person Experiencing a Heroin Addiction

By Swathi Thiyagarajan


  • Dopamine's reward system

  • Jimmy's addiction story (from experimentation to addiction, the consequences of heroin, and the withdrawal process)

  • Resources



Remember that feeling you get when the beat drops in your favorite song? Or maybe that

time when you stayed up all night studying for a difficult exam and you ended up passing?

And remember that best feeling of all (personally) when you get to pet your dog after a long

day of school and work? Dopamine is the reason we get to feel that rush of happiness and

excitement. Whenever we do any of the activities like eating our favorite food or listening to

our favorite song, our brain releases dopamine. In effect, the brain associates those

activities with pleasure and creates a reward system- which is why we feel that rush of

happiness. Now, the use of drugs can also activate that reward system, resulting in the need

to feel that dopamine high constantly- which is known as addiction. Around 38% of the

population experienced a substance addiction. On top of that, addiction among teens who

vape is also becoming a serious issue today. But how can we people get so easily addicted

to drugs?


The Beginning Addiction Process

For a better understanding of this complex topic, let's discuss Jimmy’s imaginary

scenario. Jimmy is experiencing depression and a lot of stress during his college years. In a

way to temporarily escape from his life, he tries to find a way to feel some sort of dopamine.

Jimmy’s roommate, Andy, thought it would be a good idea to get Jimmy into drugs just like

him. Because of peer pressure, Jimmy decided to give it a try and experiment with heroin.

Jimmy thought it would be a one-time thing, and that he wouldn’t get addicted. However,

Jimmy began to use heroin more and more often. Drugs like heroin have a bigger impact on

the brain’s dopamine reward system than the body's natural dopamine does. Because of

that, Jimmy begins to lose pleasure in his normal comfort activities and he only relies on

drugs to give him that dopamine. From only wanting it to be a one-time thing to temporarily

escape from his life, Jimmy is now reliant and addicted to heroin. Consequently, he became

even more sensitive to his previous feelings of depression and stress. When he tried to

become sober, he couldn’t stand the withdrawal process and used heroin again to escape

from that pain. It was a constant battle for Jimmy.

In the image above, you can see how the use of drugs can affect one’s brain. The yellow in

the left-most brain represents the brain activity in the brain. In comparison, you can see how

a person’s brain is affected by drug addiction. There is an alarming lack of brain activity in

the middle brain. However, with the stop of using the drug, the brain can recover from drug



The Withdrawal Process

Because Jimmy had become addicted to heroin, the brain depended on heroin as dopamine

rather than its natural levels. Therefore, when Jimmy went to rehab, becoming sober was a

painful process for him since his body is not used to the abrupt stop of the drugs. His brain

had adapted to this stop of drugs by producing lower levels of dopamine- leading to anxiety

and depression. Here were some of Jimmy’s symptoms from withdrawal:

● Restlessness

● Muscle pain

● Bone pain

● Insomnia

● Diarrhea

● nausea/vomiting

● hot/cold flashes

Jimmy’s withdrawal symptoms lasted for weeks during his medical detox. But he was able to

recover and is now 3 months sober. He still has cravings, but he goes to group therapy

sessions to help avoid them.



Remember, addiction is a disease. If you have a loved one that is experiencing addiction, be

there for them and help them get through it. Avoid making them feel guilty about it; instead,

get them professional help by taking them to rehab, AA (Alcohol Anonymous) meetings, or

even call SAMHSA’s (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) at

1-800-662-4357. For more resources, visit these websites:


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